I. Adam had seen on the news how they were killing women and children; had seen images of bombs exploding, schools blackened and hollow. He'd seen the one photo of the naked child running down the street and he could not take it any more. He wanted to do something—to feel better than he did sitting there alone in the light of the TV—so he enlisted and went to war.
II. Since Aayiz had been a child, at random moments, the sky would break open. In the midst of prayer or in the field out back of the police station, where dust blew as if hoofed animals were running back and forth across the red dirt, sound would suddenly erupt from a streak in the sky—knocking him back, leaving him deaf, leaving a circle of things smoking or charred, limbs in pieces, women wailing. So one day he took one of the folded fliers, went to a meeting and went to a camp where they trained him to help god cleanse the world of evil.
III. After three tours, sleep would never be the same. It would always be half-sleep or like a sleep owned by someone else, occupied by a past that had become eternal. It was as if the mind would hold nothing but errors—as if it would chew on nothing but doubt and sorrow, self loathing and guilt. Sleep was no longer capable of conjuring up beauty and peace. It wouldn't see that huge sun as it set into the ocher desert, dragging night behind it like a wave. It wouldn't see the barefoot boys playing soccer behind the police station. Every dream, even that one he would have of his wife, would turn ugly, decay into blood and the smell of burning flesh. So he stockpiled pills, cleaned his gun, drank and watched TV to keep his mind from sleep.
IV. All night it had been her own city on fire in the news; silhouettes of buildings she knew, figures against the flame, running; then there were the close-up images of black men turning over cars as hundreds of people walked in the streets with their fists in the air. Her car was new and her skin was white and she was afraid for her son and afraid they would mistake her for one of the racists, so she bought a gun.
V. The radio host described the unfaithfulness of women, their cruel manipulation of men's minds, their seduction for the sake of deception and their feigned helplessness for personal gain. His first divorce had taught him women could seem innocent but turn ruthless. They could be revealed, as the talk show host said, to want nothing but a man to take care of their needs and wants while they sat home doing nothing day after day. He would teach her a lesson, show her she could not do this to men. This is why he hit her the first time.
VI. Her newsfeed was full of those who refused to call it what it was. They aided the evil with their delicate language, proposing comfortable steps that delayed radical change and only hastened the end that those with power wanted. Her group had waited so long for the world to see the lies and the evil hiding in plain sight; to see the ways the middle classes had become oppressors through polite inaction. She thought there was a chance—now that racial issues had raised tensions enough—that money and poverty could finally be revealed as the root cause. Revolution would come. She put on her black boots, filled her book bag with bricks and walked five blocks, west to the square. She stood on the concrete, pale skin glowing as the sun rose. She hurled stones and blocks at windows, listening to the glass shatter. It was like music. Others came. Protestors from the rally and the funeral, still angry, they joined. They set fire to a Dumpster. The fire spread.
VII. The boy looked out at the sky filling with smoke. His mother was in the hospital. She'd shot their upstairs neighbor when he'd come home drunk, mistaking their door for his. The neighbor thought his key hadn't worked and broke down their door. His mom saw the man's face, so bewildered, eyes white in the blackness of his skin and she'd pulled the trigger. The boy's dad had been gone ever since he went away to war against the bad people across the sea. The boy hoped he was one of the good people. He prayed to god he was one of the good people. He knew that all over the world the good people would kill the bad people. From the beginning of time good defeated evil. Everyone thinks they are the good people, he thought. And he looked around the room at the boys and girls in chairs in tidy rows out in front of the teacher's desk, and he wondered which ones were sure they were the good people. Those were the ones he should fear. Those were the ones who did the killing. He looked at the sky outside and heard the principal on the loud speaker telling the children to stay calm, and he began to cry.